a week of anniversaries

In a way that I’d never have predicted, the middle week of February has become one of great significance in our family’s story.

This Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the shocking death of Matt’s older sister, Denya. Her daughters, in a gesture of which she would have been proud, chose to celebrate her life this week by asking Facebook friends to share their happy memories of her. It was fun to read of her love and laughter as experienced by other friends and family, too, but we definitely miss her. I miss her always encouraging Facebook and blog comments, her support for every new venture we pursued, her wise parenting advise, and, of course, the times spent hanging out together in her kitchen, enjoying and chatting about life together.

Yesterday was actually the one-year anniversary of our receiving pre-approval (PA) to adopt FangFang. We didn’t post about it far and wide on Facebook or anywhere else at that time – largely because we were en route to New York for Denya’s funeral, and we hadn’t yet told all of our close friends and family about our pursuit of adopting her. But still, as we drove on, snow-covered roads bringing us ever closer to the reality of the loss of our sister and friend, we celebrated the news that a new life would be joining our family, a precious girl we knew primarily through these pictures.

Our next milestone is today – the one year anniversary of Matt’s heart attack. One year ago today, after attending the calling hours for Denya, we were all resting in our hotel room when Matt suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. With our children looking on, I called 9-1-1, and our reality quickly transitioned from this

to this.

Matt’s heart attack has been a defining moment in our lives, one that, like having our first child, divides all of time into “before” and “after.”

Post heart-attack life is different than pre-heart-attack life. We have a radically different diet, eating almost exclusively low-sodium, plant-centered, pescetarian foods. Exercise is no longer viewed as a luxury to be pursued “once things settle down” but as a necessity, essential to sustaining life. We’ve become convinced that we cannot allow others’ desires to govern our lives – saying “no” has life-giving power. And beyond the practical changes we have made, we see life differently. Our default assumption is no longer that we are virtually guaranteed to have long, healthy lives together. The statistics for survival after cardiac arrest are sobering. My hope and prayer is that Matt and I will have many more years together – and I dream of what our future may look like – but we can no longer pretend that death is a far away specter of which we need only think once we are retired empty-nesters. Matt shared some of his thoughts on this day and that reality here. And the truth is that it is a source of some anxiety for me. We’re doing all we can to live healthily, though – and that’s all we can do. Beyond that, the calls for us are the same as those for anyone else – we seek to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We fumble toward one another, seeking to love and care for each other well, to honor our marriage vows. We pursue growth as parents and do what we can to encourage and pray for our kiddos to grow into thoughtful adults who will pursue God, be thoughtful and understanding, and fight for what’s right in the world around them. We look for ways to engage with the community and the world around us.

Life this week, while in many ways haunted by these anniversaries, has, for the most part, been simply normal. We’ve read books, learned about math, coached kids through resolvoing squabbles, played outside, eaten meals, done laundry and dishes, and relaxed with an episode of the West Wing or a game of Yahtzee after the kids have gone to bed.

And we look forward to the last of this week’s anniversaries. Tomorrow 4 years will have passed since the day Madeleine CaiQun joined our family.

This sweet girl has brought so much joy to our family – so many snuggles, so many good conversations, so much laughter. And so tomorrow we will eat Chinese food – noodles and dumplings, in honor of her province and the foods she loves so much – and celebrate.

This week is such a strange mix of reminders of life and death, of mourning and celebrations. We press on and pray that we can act honorably in the midst of it all.

Will you help us bring our daughter home?

Having been immersed in the adoption community for 4 years now, I’ve witnessed and been a part of numerous conversations about the ethics of fundraising for adoption expenses. Each of us is responsible for our own convictions before God, and I earnestly believe that it is possible for people who are seeking to act honorably to have different opinions on this topic.

We believe that it is one of the biggest tragedies on our earth today that so many children are alone. UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in the world today. Many of them are living with another family member, which is the best solution possible in a situation that is obviously less than ideal. Others are cared for within their communities. But for various complex reasons, neither of those options is always possible, and in those cases, international adoption may be a child’s best option. We believe that’s the case for the precious little girl whose adoption we’re pursuing. Although she is currently in the care of a wonderful foster home, she does not have a family, and her legal guardian remains an orphanage. Orphanage life is grim – a friend’s daughters shared recently on her blog about their experiences in orphanages prior to being adopted.

The reality is that international adoption is expensive. There are very real costs involved – the cost of our home study, the agency fees to cover the costs of the work our placing agency does on our behalf, US immigration expenses, charges assessed by the governing body in China to cover their services, a mandatory donation to our child’s orphanage, and our travel expenses. Many families, ourselves included, can work hard, earn extra money, make choices to cut costs in other areas in order to save money, and still not have all of the funds on hand to pay the entirety of those costs. Simply put, we cannot, completely on our own, afford to adopt internationally.

However, we believe that God calls His people to care for the vulnerable, the lonely, those in need. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We believe that pursuing and supporting adoption is one way in which we can do that. And we believe that God Himself is passionate about adoption – He describes Himself as an adoptive Father, and He tells us that He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). Not everyone is called to adopt, but everyone can support in some way vulnerable families and the adoption of children who are without families.

And so we humbly ask, would you consider contributing toward the costs of our adoption of a precious little girl in China? We’ve been given an awesome opportunity through which the amount of your donation can actually be doubled. Chosen and Dearly Loved has offered us a matching grant of $3,000, with $2,500 to be disbursed to our agency for adoption costs and $500 to be used for post-placement needs (counseling, adoptive parent training, or any other needs our family or our daughter might have), if we can raise the funds to match those amounts. If we’re able to raise the full $3,000, we’ll also receive the full $3,000 offered by Chosen and Dearly Loved, which would be an enormous blessing to us as we seek to bring our sweet girl home. That means that your donation of $10, when matched by Chosen and Dearly Loved, becomes $20. Your contribution of $100 becomes $200. We know that many of our friends and family members are living on tight budgets and cannot afford to give large amounts of money, but this is a situation in which the impact of your gift can go beyond even what you can give, as it is matched, and we would so appreciate contributions in any amount. Would you consider giving up one dinner out and donating that money toward our adoption expenses? Or making coffee at home for a week instead of stopping at Starbucks? We would so appreciate any help you can give in bringing our little one home.

In order for your gift to be doubled, it needs to go through Lifesong for Orphans, which administers the grants for Chosen and Dearly Loved. It also must, in order to be credited to our account, mention “Family 6341 – Ballou.” Probably the simplest way to ensure that your donation is routed correctly is to give through our myStory page here. However, you can also give online at Lifesong’s Giving Portal – under “Please direct my donation to” select “Adoption,” under “I’d like to give to” select “Adoptive Family,” and then enter our family account number (6341) and name (Ballou) where asked. You may also mail donations to this address, making sure that any checks mention our family account number and name in the memo line:

Lifesong for Orphans
P.O. Box 40
Gridley, IL 61744

Lifesong does not take any percentage of donations for their administrative expenses, so 100% of the donated amount (minus any fee that Paypal or Stripe assesses) goes straight to the adoptive family. In following IRS guidelines, your donation is technically to the named non-profit organization, which retains full discretion over its use, but intends to honor the donor’s suggested use. Individual donations of $250 or more and yearly donations totaling $250 or more will receive a tax-deductible receipt. Receipts for donations under $250 will gladly be sent upon request. Lifesong is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization.

Thank you for any help you can offer toward bringing our next little girl home, bringing her into a family where we can promise she will be truly chosen and dearly loved, as all children should be.